Why the Rockets Have the Smartest Offense in the NBA

Despite being the youngest team in the NBA last season, with an average age of 24.9, the Houston Rockets possessed one of the best offenses in the league.

The Rockets were second in the league at points per game, averaging 106 points per game (just .1 points behind the Denver Nuggets), and were the fastest team with a pace (number of possessions per game) of 98.6.

How did a team that began the season as the most inexperienced team in the league, in terms of minutes played, end the season with one of the league’s most potent offenses?

The answer, in short, is that they played smart.

If you know anything about Daryl Morey, it’s that he is one of the leading proponents of using “advanced” statistics when formulating his team. Given the number of shots Houston attempts behind the three-point arc, or near the rim, the Rockets’ offense is the on-court embodiment of an advanced statisticians dream.

With the advent of SportVU technology, which allows teams to review where their players are taking and making their shots, it’s become more and more clear that the mid-range shot is the least effective shot in the NBA.

The Rockets shot selection seems to reflect their understanding of this.

This past season, the Rockets took the least amount of shots at 10 to 14 feet away from the basket, attempting only 264. To give that number some context, the Detroit Pistons were 29th in field goals attempted from that distance, and took nearly 100 more field goal attempts (362) than Houston, from that distance.

In contrast, Houston was third in the league in field goals attempted less than five feet away from the rim with 2,822 attempts, and second in 3-pointers, attempting 1,038.

As mentioned earlier, the Rockets led the league in pace last season and this is due to the fact that their first offensive option is the fast break. According to Synergy, the Rockets were in transition 17.2 percent of the

However, it’s Houston’s affinity for the 3-pointer that launched their offense to the top of the NBA. More than 35 percent (35.4 to be exact) of the Rockets shots came from behind the arc and although they only converted 36.4 percent of them, because they made 867 of them that field-goal percentage isn’t very helpful for reaching any conclusions.

Instead of using simple field-goal percentage, if you look at effective field goal percentage, Rockets were fourth in the league.

Miami Heat – 54.5%

San Antonio Spurs – 52.8%

Los Angeles Clippers – 52.4%

Houston Rockets – 52.3%

Oklahoma City Thunder – 52.1%

Effective field goal percentage is a much better barometer of how efficient a team is on offense because it accounts for the fact that 3-pointers count for an extra point.

Houston could have one of the most devastating offenses next season, but they’ll need to work on two things for this to happen.

First, they will need to increase the number of offensive rebounds they grab. Last year, Houston was second in the league in defensive rebounding percentage, claiming 75.3 percent of defensive boards, but they ranked 16th in the league in offensive rebounding percentage.

The addition of Dwight Howard will certainly help fix this issue.

Second, the Rockets will need to minimize turnovers. Houston was 27th in assist/turnover ratio last season, averaging 1.39 assists per turnover. Compared to San Antonio, who was second in the league with 1.71 assists per turnover, this isn’t going to cut it.

If the Rockets can increase the number of possessions that don’t end in turnovers while simultaneously increasing their chance of scoring second-chance points, their efficient shot selection could result in them having one of the most daunting offenses in recent NBA history.


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